Holon (IL), October 2019 - Social robots are becoming useful parts of the education ecosystem. They are equipped with multimodal interaction capabilities and, equally important, have a physical presence. The session "Exploring Human-Robot Interaction and Robot Roles in Education and Training" on Thursday, 28 November, from 14.30 to 15.30 will increase your awareness about various training and educational oriented applications of humanoid robots. Gila Kurtz, Holon Institute of Technology (HIT), Israel, answered some current questions on the topic.
In which learning scenarios can humanoid robots be deployed?
Gila Kurtz: Humanoid robots (HR) can be deployed in any training or topic area. We have already deployed HR as a tutor or assistant teacher for both children and adults in teaching knowledge and skill-based subjects. For example, in second language tutoring, we can program the robot to give personalized feedback based on the individual progress of each learner. The robot can also explain and demonstrate the correct pronunciation. Another area is practicing social interaction skills. For example, children with autism have displayed difficulty in interacting with their peers for a variety of reasons and, in some cases, are more attracted to inanimate objects like a HR. These children enjoy the chance to interact through the medium of play involving voice, emotion, and movement.
HR can interact and communicate with humans by following expected behavioral norms. This can be an enormous benefit in the workplace: For example, we can use HR to guide and help human workers perform their tasks - and even learn new ones - effectively. The robot is capable of sensing and communicating data from various sources like the human body or clothing, and as a response, can give learners personalized guidance.
What are the anticipated benefits?
Gila Kurtz: Being human like, HR can offer entertainment, enjoyment, and curiosity as added values for learners. The HR’s body resembles the human shape, and it can mimic movements and behaviors. Its computing capabilities allow rich human-robot interaction through speech, facial gestures, and body motions. These values are essential factors for increasing motivation for learning activities. When the interaction between human and robot is pleasant and pedagogically sound, ensuring that learners receive input to optimize their learning gains, it is a win-win event. An important factor is that robots are physical embodiments and not avatars or synthetic on-screen social characters. Broadening the interaction to the physical space, i.e. not limiting it to the virtual world, creates a more natural and holistic learning environment.
What experience have you gained so far?
Gila Kurtz: Our primary interest is working adults. As we unable to find prior projects or studies directly addressing the use of HR in the context of adult training activities, we decided to focus our R&D efforts on an innovative project, developing a team-based game scaffolded by HR as a tutor. The theme of the collaborative training game was national security. The participant had to "save the Israeli nation" by locating sensitive security information that had been stolen and stored in a vault. The robot was a "spy master" who guided the group by providing direct instructions and hints. During the game, the robot offered the team clues, and appropriate gestures were presented as a means of encouragement. Finally, when the participants had managed to open all the locks, i.e. they found the stolen sensitive security information, the robot gave some concluding remarks regarding the team’s performance and thanking them for "saving the nation".
We received excellent feedback from the participants! They reported that it had been a motivating and fun experience because they were deeply immersed in the game, which combined intellectual challenges and demanded collaborative coping.
Another source of feedback was an evaluation done by a group of experts from the field. All of them were enthusiastic about the game’s innovative way of learning, its flexibility, and its mobility, though a number of them addressed the need for the robot to be more “spontaneous”. Taking this last comment into account, we are planning a new project - a theater workshop guided by a more intuitive HR. I am excited to see what the results will be.
How do you envisage learning scenarios in the year 2030?
Gila Kurtz: WOW! I wish I knew, but I’m very optimistic! I believe that all changes are for the better, as long as humanity remains our top priority. I think we will see more of the Internet of Things (IoT), that is devices that allow for a networked learning environment, as well as the sharing of data directly from our bodies. Among its many potential benefits are personalized and ongoing learning activities based on individual learning styles and the learner’s availability in regard to time and location. Overall, I think the IoT will support us, and data will guide us, to design more humanized learning paths.